Sunday, January 13, 2019

Little known hazards on our beaches – 2. Jellyfish

Among other things which can maim or kill, or at least cause excruciating pain, jellyfish deserve a mention too. Although they have always been around, they have been especially prolific this year.  The Gold Coast has been plagued by Blue Bottles and Fraser Island has had an invasion of Irukandji jellyfish.  The box jelly fish known as Stingers which used be seen mainly around the Northern Territory in the Wet Season from November to May, have now extended their range down the east coast as far as the Whitsundays and linger around until July. Warmer ocean temperatures are blamed for this. See the National Geographic for more including excellent pictures

Blue Bottles

I’ll start with the Portuguese Man-o’-War or Blue Bottle (Physalia utriculus) which has been in the news lately because thousands have washed up on the shores around South East Queensland in recent weeks with over 3,000 people being treated for stings on one weekend. 

They are easy to recognise by their blue colour and the fact that they congregate in large numbers. They are also found in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. While not as large or as venomous as  their Atlantic cousins, people can have an allergic reaction and their sting can still be very painful.  Here’s what to do if you are stung:

The Box Jellyfish

The Box Jellyfish is large and clear and comes in around 29 varieties. It is far more deadly because its toxins affect the heart, the nervous system and respiration, and the pain can be so severe that victims may go into shock and drown. According to jellyfish expert, Jamie Seymour, Associate Professor of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University, being in contact with two or more metres of tentacles will kill a person in two minutes. While popular beaches around Darwin often have special stinger nets in the season, this doesn't prevent some tentacles getting through. As the box jelly fish has more than sixty tentacles which can be 3- 4 metres in length, the only real defence is an all- over Lycra body suit, called a Stinger Suit, which are often supplied by dive companies and the like. While not particularly fetching, they will also keep out Ultra Violet radiation which poses the risk of skin cancer and is most likely a fairly effective repellent against romantic encounters as well. As far as stingers go, wet suits will work too.

 In the first instance, remove tentacles and douse with vinegar for at least 20 minutes and be prepared to apply CPR* if necessary. Call emergency services and bandage firmly - not so tightly as to cut off circulation -as for snake bite, and keep the victim still and calm until help arrives.
* CPR - Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation

NB: Coastal rivers are not necessarily free of stingers either according to the Australian Museum.

Irukadnji Jellyfish

Irukandji  a smaller type of box jelly fish are also on the move. While the most common box jelly fish is large and easily seen, the Irukandji  Jellyfish (Carukua barnesi ) found in tropical waters from  Bundaberg in Queensland to Geraldton in Western Australia, is  a mere 2cm in size but still packs a deadly punch. Not only is it difficult to see in the water, but  the effects of its sting generally do not become apparent until some time after contact. This means that swimmers often do not realise that they have been stung, by which time it may be too late to save them. Typical symptoms which can appear anywhere between 5-45 minutes afterwards include - severe headache or backache, acute pain in the muscles, chest or stomach, vomiting and nausea, profuse sweating, rapid heartrate and high blood pressure and there may even be psychological symptoms such  as anxiety or “feelings of impending doom.”

Treatment is much the same as for other types of box jellyfish. Here’s the advice from the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service though note that the use of vinegar is coming under challenge and may not be the answer in all cases. See the full article by North Queensland Tourism here:
  • Wear protective clothing. A full-length Lycra suit reduces the risk of stings by 75%.
  • Carry vinegar when you go swimming or boating to apply to stings
  • Saturate even minor stings with vinegar
  • Don’t go back in the water until you’re sure you are not ill (wait 30 minutes)
  • If in doubt or in distress, seek help ASAP. You may need to go to the hospital for a more thorough check and, if required, medical treatment.  

Little known hazards on our beaches – 1. Rips

While untrodden beaches are appealing, they may harbour hidden hazards

It’s summer. It’s hot and it’s hard to resist Australia’s beautiful beaches, but a couple of words of caution are in order before you dive in. I am not telling you this to scare you, but because visitors and newcomers are overrepresented in the statistics of those who come to grief and we want everyone to have a great day and come home safely.  That includes Australians.

While shark attacks grab the headlines, they pale into insignificance as a cause of death compared to drownings and some other lesser -known nasties. For this reason Surf Life Saving Clubs have been warning about rips this season. This refers to fast running currents in the water that have the potential to drag you out to sea. They are one of most common reasons why swimmers get into difficulty. Here is how to recognise them, followed by how to get out of one. The main thing is not to panic.

 I learnt a bit myself from this video, even though most Aussies grow up with beaches. As the video shows, it’s not the boiling waves that are the problem, but the strangely smooth sections.

Guess where the rip might be in this picture

 Ideally you should only swim between the flags at patrolled beaches, especially if you are a poor swimmer, but with only 3% of our coastline patrolled, that's not always an option. The best thing is to go with a friend. That way if you run into trouble, there’ll be someone to help or at least raise the alarm. The correct way to rescue someone is not to jump in after them and endanger yourself, but to reach for a pole or branch which you then hold out to the other person from a secure position on the land or a boat.  If you don’t know the area, don’t dive into unknown waters either. Many people have been seriously injured or killed that way. Talk to the locals first. They may also know where the best  surf is and where sharks are likely to hang about. It is also important to learn CPR - Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

A taste of summer - morning at the Berry Farm

It's berry and cherry season at last!

I called in at a berry farm the other day.  True, you can probably buy raspberries for the same or less in the supermarket, but there were several reasons for getting them at the source.
For a start, you can be sure of getting fresh fruit – you can see people picking it, and it’s nice to know where it came from.  There were also some of the more unusual berries such as gooseberries, red currants and Kentish Cherries which you don’t often see in the shops. The gooseberry fool* I made  afterwards reminded me of  summers past when most families had a backyard, a Hill’s hoist and a berry patch with at least one or two prickly gooseberry bushes. * see instructions at the end of this post, also about the origin of the word.

Looking South East
Wolfe's Berry Farm lies in a lush valley beneath Mount Wellington and has been operated by the same family for over a hundred years. That may not mean much by European or Mediterranean standards, but in Australia and in these times of rapid change, the quick buck and globalisation, when our food often comes from the far corners of the globe, it is somehow reassuring. Local produce means fewer fuel miles too.

Some of the traditional architecture on this historic farm

I loved the buildings almost as much as the berries. You can see the passage of time in these buildings – humble beginnings, good times and bad, and how traditionally farmers will never let a good building go to waste. Former dwellings become pickers’ huts, machinery sheds or storage for hay or for produce or all those things that might come in handy one day, when the power’s out, the chainsaw breaks down or you can’t get a plumber for love or money. These buildings hark back to days of self -sufficiency, practicality and frugality, with just a slight nod to beautification. The landscape is beautiful enough, at least on this sunny day and adds to the sweetness of the berries. I also enjoyed chatting to the owner about the season and the history of the place. I know some people prefer the anonymity of the supermarket and probably the quick self -checkout, but I‘m not one of those.  

You can't have too many sheds
Family farmhouse from yesteryear
Possibly the one before

...and even the one before that. At least they have character as my son would say, although there are several modern buildings on the premises too.

 Wolfe’s hardly advertises. It’s closer to Kingston and can be reached more easily via Lesley Vale Road, but there are many other places around the state where you can taste Tasmanian lusciousness. No guarantees here. I have been to both Kate’s Berry Farm and Hillwood and found them closed, despite signs on the road, so it may be best to check the website first. Some, like Kates or Turner’s Beach Berry Patch have caf├ęs attached. Others, such as Coal River Farm allow you to pick your own and many pride themselves on being organic.  Here are some of the more established ones, though you may well find others along the road. That's half the fun. Enjoy!

Near Hobart

Wolfe’s Berry Farm
           - Neika, off Leslie Vale Road, near Kingston 
-just before Mt. Field – one of the largest, all kinds of berries
            -East of Hobart, also has peaches and apples
-near Richmond, mostly strawberries
             -Cambridge, near Richmond, also sells chocolate, cheeses, other produce and has a cafe

East Coast



            -East Tamar, also has blueberries
            -Underwood near Lilydale– Mostly cherries,
Cherry Top Accommodation - Cherry Top & Eagle Park
             -Near Lilydale, mostly blueberries, some other produce and a host farm

North Central 
            -near Ulverstone, has both picked and uPick, also a restaurant

                  -(Formerly Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm), near Elizabeth Town. Has a cafe
      This is a big fruit growing region, so no doubt there are plenty of others around Sheffield, Wynyard and Spreyton too, but I haven't been up that way for a while, at least not in berry season

            -at Lonnavale

For more, directions, recipes and the like click here 

*A fool can be made with any tart fruit layered with cream, custard etc. Tougher fruit such as gooseberries should be softened in a saucepan over medium heat with a little hot water first.  Read more...
As to the origin of the name "Fool"  Elizabeth Rahe's explanation  that "fouler" is the French word for crush, seems plausible. Read more...